What to we want our kids to gain?

Doug DavidsonWhat do we most want our kids to gain from their involvement at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto? This is the question we began with when the parents of our children and youth joined Carolyn Shepard and me for a conversation after worship on October 12. Our discussion included a lot of affirmation for our current programming for children and youth, as well as some great suggestions for future directions we might pursue.

Parents expressed appreciation for the ways in which our Sunday school program helps to ground our children and youth in the primary stories, beliefs, and practice of our faith. For many parents, this was central to what they most want for their kids. We also celebrated the strong relationships that exist among our kids, the degree to which they enjoy being together, and the valuable cross-generational connections between youth and adults in our congregation. Appreciation was expressed for the ways Elizabeth Ramirez makes effective use of Bible stories and hands-on projects in working with our younger children, and for how the discussion based format used with our older youth exposes them to different opinions and understandings of critical faith questions.

Our conversations pointed to several ideas about how our Sunday schedule for youth might be adjusted. It was suggested that having the older youth remain in worship for the entire service on Communion Sundays would both strengthen their connections
with the larger congregation and involve them more fully in the overall worship life of the church. On other Sundays, it was suggested that both children and youth leave for Sunday school a bit earlier in the service (immediately after the special music) to allow a bit more lesson time. These suggestions were later shared with Pastor Rick and the church council, and will be tested out over the next several months.

I also shared materials from the Echo the Story curriculum we’ll be using for the next few months with our older youth. This month, I will be looking for a curriculum for our younger kids that might guide for teaching our younger children. I remain deeply grateful for the ways in which the nurture of our children and youth in the faith is a task that’s taken seriously not just by the parents of our kids but by our entire congregation here in Palo Alto.

Doug Davidson, Minister with Children, Youth and Families

God’s Story… and Ours

Doug DavidsonChristian Formation and Family Life

During Sunday school last week, the youth and I were talking about the ways our individual stories and God’s story intersect, and how each of us can play a role in God’s work in our world. I mentioned the work of author Sam Wells, who suggests we might understand the broad scope of God’s movement in our world as if it were a five-act play. But this story is not complete—Wells suggests that we live today in the midst of the fourth act of this divine drama. And the interesting thing is that we actors in this play are not given a script that directs our every word and deed. Instead, we are called to improvise, rooted in and guided by a vital tradition, but living out our individual parts with creativity. In doing so, our stories become part of that larger story.

A focus on the broad scope of God’s story is also shaping our worship and educational programming this year. Last month, our church began using the outline suggested in Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road By Walking to guide our worship on a year-long journey through the themes of Scripture. Similarly, in October, the older youth and I will begin using a new curriculum called Echo the Story, which uses videos, creative reflection, art, and story telling to help youth discover their own identity in the context of the biblical narrative. The youth curriculum breaks the Story down into 12 sessions, which means that even with an occasional break, the youth will complete the story before the congregation reaches the end of the year-long McLaren lectionary. I’ll make sure to tell the youth not to give away the ending!

Elizabeth continues to lead the children’s class, working with our three elementary school kids each week. I’m so grateful for her faithful service every Sunday. I always appreciate the various activities and crafts she puts together to help the kids in exploring the biblical themes of the day.

This month, I hope to schedule a meeting with the parents of our children and youth to talk about their hopes and desires for how First Baptist might meet the needs of its kids and young families. We’re aiming to meet after worship some Sunday in October. I look forward to this gathering, and to hearing how we can support our kids to faithfully live out their own stories, surrounded by God’s love and a community of care at First Baptist.

Doug Davidson
Minister with Children, Youth, and Families

Back to School

Doug DavidsonI’m writing to you from the Jersey Shore, sitting on a porch just a couple hundred yards from the beach in Ocean City, NJ. Since my youth, three generations of my family have gathered for a week “down the shore” near the end of every summer. When I was a kid, we would often drive home from the beach on Labor Day, and then begin the new school year the very next day. It was always bittersweet to jump from the relaxed pace of vacation to the challenges and excitement of a fresh school year.

Throughout our eleven years in California, we’ve found a way to get back to the east coast every year for this annual ritual. One of the joys of our trip this year is that, after our week at the beach, I will have an opportunity to preach at Chesterfield Baptist Church, where my dad was pastor for 28 years. And then we’ll hop on a plane, come  home, and I’ll get ready for seminary classes to start the next day.

It’s been a great summer at First Baptist of Palo Alto. About twenty of us had a blast going to see the San Jose Giants play on August 8th. I was a little worried when the game began and it was just the Satterlees, Pastor Rick, and I, but by the third inning, the two rows reserved for our group were packed with boisterous fans from FBC! That same weekend, our service in Mitchell Park was a truly wonderful experience, with five diverse Palo Alto congregations coming together for a truly unique and powerful service of worship followed by a shared meal.

As we enter September, I am happy to be celebrating my one-year anniversary with you. I remember my first Sunday last September, as I joined you for the worship service celebrated FBC’s 120th anniversary. It’s been a real joy to get to know all of you and to be a part of year number 121! And I’m so pleased that I have opportunity to continue working with the children and youth here. I don’t need to tell any of you that the youth here at FBC are awesome; getting to be a part of their lives is a tremendous experience for me. As we move from summer into the joys and challenges of this new year, may we all be open to the Spirit who calls us to times of rest and renewal, and then invites us to find new ways of expressing God’s love in our lives and in our world.

Doug Davidson, Minister with Children, Youth, and Families.

Summer fun and soccer balls

Perhaps one of “our” balls in the air with Glen, on its way to bring our solidarity and joy to a village.
Perhaps one of “our” balls in the air with Glen, on its way to bring our solidarity and joy to a village.

I’m delighted to be spending this summer working with our children, youth, and families here at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto. The older youth and I have already spent some time brainstorming possibilities for some fun events this summer. We’ve talked about movie nights, going to see a pro baseball or soccer game, visiting the zoo, and maybe an overnight lock‐in at the church. In the next week or two we’ll make some concrete plans, hoping we can arrange a few events that will fit into the busy schedules of our young people.

On Sunday mornings in July, the youth and I will be working through a few sessions of the re:form DVD series, focusing first on a series of conversations about the nature of the Bible. The questions we’ll be talking about will echo many of the same issues discussed in the adult spiritual formation sessions led by Corinna Guerrero in June.

As I mentioned in worship a few weeks ago, we are celebrating the reports we’ve received from ABC missionary Glen Chapman about his distribution of 60 soccer balls to youth and communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You will recall that our youth helped the church raise more than $900 in a special offering earlier this year to fund this effort.

Amid the “World Cup fever” that has captivated so many people this summer, it is wonderful to see the soccer connection made between our youth and other kids on the opposite side of the globe. I’m including a few of the pictures that Glen sent, but you really owe it to yourself to go on the Web and view the video of the powered parachute (PPC) that Glen has used to distribute the soccer balls and in his other missionary travels. You can find it by going to Glen’s page on the ABC‐USA’s International Ministries website or at this link:
http://www.internationalministries.org/read/28124‐2‐years‐of‐flying‐the‐ppc‐in‐congo

I continue to be excited about the good things going on at First Baptist Church, especially among the great group of young people here. I wish each of you a peaceful and joyous summer.

Pastor Doug

Glen and his flying machine!
Glen and his flying machine!

 

Ready for Take-off!
Ready for Take-off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Powerful Foolishness (May 11, 2014)

Doug DavidsonPOWERFUL FOOLISHNESS

A sermon preached by Doug Davidson
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, May 11, 2012

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I want to share a concern with you.

Or, maybe I should say it another way: I’m a little worried.

Yes. Worried. Let me explain.

I think some of us have been hanging around the church for too long.

No, really–I mean it. I think some of us have spent so much time in church that we’ve gotten the wrong idea. We’ve been soaking in these waters of Christianity for so long, that we’ve developed a certain… misconception.

We’ve started to think the message of the cross is just good common sense.

We think the Gospel blends nicely with conventional wisdom.

We think the word of the cross is easily harmonized with the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Let’s see, it’s “1. Be Proactive, 2. Begin with the end in mind, and #3. If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.Or we think it fits well with the practical suggestions of Ben Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac. Get up early, eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, work hard, oh, and bless those who persecute you. It’s the recipe for success, right?

I think maybe we’ve heard so many sermons, we’ve sung so many hymns, we’ve spent so many hours and days and week and years in churches, we’ve gotten used to it. We’ve lost sight of how crazy this message of a crucified Jesus is. How foolish. How improbable and unacceptable. How radically ridiculous.

The apostle Paul understood how extraordinary it was to suggest that God’s power is revealed to the world on a cross. Paul was a Jew, so he knew it didn’t match Jewish expectations of what a messiah would look like. Nor did it match the wisdom for which the Greeks were famous. Yet in this letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul lifts up the cross. God’s power and wisdom are revealed, says Paul, through Jesus’ crucifixion—an event the world understands only as weakness and foolishness. This cross, Paul says, offers an upside-down wisdom that causes religious folks to stumble, and makes philosophers shake their heads.

God’s power is revealed in a Jesus who, in faithfulness, empties himself of everything that looks like power.

Here’s the shape of God’s saving power, Paul says. It’s not in kings and generals and armies. It’s not in wealth and degrees. It’s in a Jesus who is betrayed and abandoned; who is stripped, beaten, and executed like a common criminal. And this one hanging on the cross calls us to follow him.

Now, maybe some of us have been around churches for so long that we’ve forgotten how ludicrous this word of the cross might sound. And that’s one reason it’s important to remember that Paul didn’t write these words with us in mind. Paul was writing a personal letter to the church in Corinth, a community of Christ followers living just 20 to 30 years after Jesus’ death. Paul wasn’t writing for the twenty-first century seminarians in Berkeley or the Baptists in Palo Alto. We’re eavesdropping. We’re reading someone else’s mail.

What’s more, as we read Paul’s words about the foolishness of the cross, we need to understand that we’re stepping into an ongoing drama. Now, if we open our Bibles, and see that we’re reading from the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we might think we’re getting the beginning of the story. But as Suzanne Watts Henderson reminds us, First Corinthians “plunges readers into a conversation well underway.”[1] We’re jumping right into the middle of the scene. It’s like we’ve come home and grabbed our popcorn, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, only to find out the show has already started. And we need to try to piece together who the characters are and what’s already going on.

In fact, it’s clear that in First Corinthians, we’re not just in the middle of an episode, we’re already several seasons into the drama. In chapter 5, verse 9, Paul refers to an earlier letter he’d written to the Corinthians, about some major issues that had entered the church. We don’t have that letter. So we need to remember that this invitation to embrace the foolishness of the cross isn’t really from “The first letter of Paul to the Corinthians,” despite what it says at the top of the page in my Bible. It’s from the first letter we have.

So figuring out exactly what word God might have for us, here, today, is a major task. Because we’re starting with a letter written 2,000 years ago that picks up in the middle of an ongoing conversation with another community in another time and another place.

But knowing a little bit about Corinth can help us begin to unpack it. Corinth was a Roman colony situated between two seaports. It was a city of diversity, “a thriving melting pot where social mobility and economic opportunity fostered vigorous competition.”[2] Sounds a little bit like Palo Alto. And the Corinthian church reflected the city’s diversity. There were Jews and Greeks, and slaves and free persons, rich and poor—a wild mix of cultures, and classes and customs. And the followers of Christ there, reflected that diversity. And from everything we can gather, they were at each other’s throats, arguing about what they thought be doing, and where the church was headed.

Paul refers to different factions within the church. Some of the believers claimed loyalty to other preachers who’d been with them, like Apollos, or Cephas. Others claimed allegiance to Paul himself—and he wasn’t really any happier about that. See for Paul it’s not about the preacher; it’s about the cross. In fact, in verse 17, Paul celebrates that he really wasn’t much of a speaker. He claims that his own proclamation was “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Paul seems to think the Corinthians are getting caught up in the rhetoric of their teachers. Their ability to craft brilliant arguments and communicate human ideas of knowledge—it’s getting in the way. Because it’s not about the skill and technique of a particular teacher. It’s about the power of God, which comes in the unexpected form of a crucified Lord. And it’s this power that Paul heralds as the one thing that could unite the Corinthians across all their diversity and differences.

But two thousand years later, in this heavily Christianized culture, I think we can lose our sense of how scandalous and improbable the cross is. We see crosses in our churches, some of us wear them as jewelry around our necks, or have them tattoed on our biceps. It’s become the symbol of our faith. But Beverly Gaventa says Paul’s assertion that the cross demonstrated God’s power “must have struck some of Paul’s contemporaries as the ravings of a madman.” The cross wasn’t a symbol of power. It was, in fact, “the antithesis of power–except as it revealed the power of the Roman Empire to crush those regarded as opponents.”

But the reality of the cross can still shatter our presuppositions. I was reminded of this one day when our family was living on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where my wife was working on her M.Div. Our son, Elliot, was probably about three years old at the time. One afternoon Elliot and I walked into the seminary library to drop off a book for a friend.

As we stepped through the bright red doors, moving from the bright sunlight into the darkened vestibule of the library, Elliot stopped in his tracks. There, on the wall to his right, hung a sculpted crucifix, nearly life size. I watched his young eyes study Jesus’ agonized face, the dying body nailed to a tree, the nails piercing his hands and feet.

I knew the image was a new one to him. He wasn’t used to it. He’d spent much of his young life in churches, but the crosses in our Baptist church were all clean and sanitized; their Jesuses were all resurrected and ascended.

For a moment, I considered hustling him back out the door, thinking maybe I should try to shield him from this holy horror in the same way I would sometimes “rewrite” the violent plots of his Batman comic books when I read them aloud. But he’d already taken it all in.

I thought he might cry. Instead, without ever taking his eyes off the dying Jesus, he slowly spoke words filled with great sadness and wonder: “What happened?”

Elliot reminded me of the great mystery of it all. He felt the horror of it. He’d heard stories about this Jesus who welcomed children, and healed sick people, and chased after lost sheep. But somehow this Jesus taught and healed and forgave and loved others with an intensity that threatened the religious and political powers of his day. Jesus didn’t color within the lines. He hung out with prostitutes, and ate with sinners, and welcomed the marginalized and forsaken. And he talked about a different kingdom, one that belonged to the poor, and the hungry, and downtrodden. So they made a symbol out of him: Here’s what happens when you mess with the system. You end up dead on a cross. That’s the way the world’s power works. We dare not shield ourselves from the horrible reality of this.

But that’s not the whole story. Because on the cross, Jesus demonstrated his devotion to the same love that he incarnated throughout his life. He was willing to trust in faith that the future was in God’s hands, not in the hands of the religious and political authorities who conspired to kill him. In his death, Jesus embodied the same radical devotion to God’s exorbitant love that he revealed throughout his life.

You see, Jesus lived in ways that weren’t very…practical. They don’t match up well with common sense. And he called those who would follow him to this same way. Here’s the path to life, says Jesus. It’s foolishness. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Forgive without end. Give away all you have. Drop everything and follow me. Don’t worry about the future. Live a life of radical devotion to the one who created you. That’s God’s wisdom. Yes, it may put you at odds with the rulers of this world, who think they have the key to life. But it aligns you with something greater, with a love so powerful that even death cannot extinguish it.

So what does this mean for us, for this group of believers here at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto? How do we live into this new age? Here we sit, a few blocks from Stanford University, one of the preeminent educational institutions in the world. We’re in Silicon Valley—our neighbors are Facebook, Google, Apple, and tons of other technological companies that are reshaping the world. Palo Alto has more than it’s share of the world’s wisdom and power. How can this little church have any impact? What can we offer in light of the technological and economic power, unimaginable wealth, and knowledge that surrounds us?

What we have to share with the world is a knowledge that’s rooted in something very different. It’s a power revealed in weakness. In serving others. In practicing forgiveness. In humility. In foolish acts of faithfulness. In grace and welcome to all. This is the way God’s spirit breaks into the world.

What does it mean to worship a God whose wisdom is revealed on a cross? It means we seek to embody that same faithfulness to God that Jesus lived. It means inviting God to break our captivity to worldly conceptions of power and wisdom. It means finding our true unity by committing ourselves ever more fully to the upside-down logic of the cross. And it means knowing that when we fall short in our efforts to be faithful, and we will, we have a God’s whose forgiveness and love cover our failures.

Paul declares that God has chosen the weak of this world to shame the wise. Let us learn to let go of our own futile grasps at power and wisdom, that we might deepen our commitment to the crucified Christ. Amen.

[1] Suzanne Watts Henderson, “1 Corinthians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible One-Volume Commentary, Beverly Roberts Gaventa and David L. Petersen, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 788.

[2] Henderson, 788.

On Baptism

Doug DavidsonIn recent weeks, I have been thinking a lot about baptism. (Yes, seminary does invite you to spend a good bit of time contemplating such things!) In particular, I have been considering the central place that baptism occupies within the Christian faith, and the particular significance it has for us as Baptists. After all, we are part of a church tradition that got its very name from the distinctive way in which it practiced the baptism of believers by immersion.

During March, I will be spending three Sundays with our youth in which we’ll be talking about the meaning of baptism. I am really looking forward to this time. Additionally, Pastor Rick, Pastor Tripp, and I have been in conversation about building one of our worship services later this spring around the theme of baptism. I wanted to invite each of you to consider participating in that process in several possible ways:

  1. If you would be interested in sharing a bit about the significance of baptism in your own faith journey, I would love to speak with you. Perhaps one or more adults could join the youth during the Sunday school hour to share a brief word about what baptism means to them. Or, maybe we might include your stories in the worship service we are planning.
  2. If you’ve never been baptized and would like to consider taking this step of faith, the pastors would love to speak with you about that possibility. We would be delighted to be in conversation with you as you consider whether you might want to be baptized.

I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity to talk with our youth—and with any others who are interested–about what baptism means. I know many of our youth have been baptized already, and I look forward to conversations about how they understand the significance of that. And, while my time with the youth won’t be directed toward pressuring anyone, I will make it clear that our congregation would be delighted to celebrate with any who feel called to respond to God’s invitation to be baptized. It’s a joy and a privilege to be partnering with you as our congregation considers the new things God is doing among us.

Doug Davidson

Rooted in Steadfast Love

Doug DavidsonThe first half of my nine‐month internship here at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto has been a wonderful opportunity for me to “try on” the role of pastor for the first time in a congregational setting. Pastor Rick is a wise, caring, and supportive leader to learn from, and I’ve benefited greatly from working alongside Tripp and Naomi, both of whom bring great insight, experience, and passion to their work. I have deeply valued having the opportunity to involve myself in the life of this vibrant community‐‐to participate in the planning and leading of worship on a weekly basis, to lead the Adult Spiritual Formation class from time to time, to work with the youth, and to meet with the various leadership teams that shape the life of our congregation.

On my very first Sunday with you back in September, our church celebrated its 120th anniversary. It was obvious to me that day that this congregation takes a lot of pride in its long history of active ministry in this community. And it’s been clear to me in the months since then that God is still active in our midst, as we consider what new ways we might respond to the Spirit’s leading.

Our Scriptures tell the story of a God who becomes known in the unfolding of the history of a particular community of believers. The Israelites told and retold the tales of God’s activity in their midst. By remembering God’s liberating work in their past, they were empowered to confront the challenges and struggles that faced them in the present. In Psalm 136, the community recounts particular moments of God’s presence among them. And with the recalling of each event, both the highs and the lows, the same refrain is repeated: “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

I’m grateful to be connected with a church that has such an amazing heritage. And I believe the future is bright for First Baptist Church of Palo Alto. As a congregation, you have recognized the need to find new ways to enliven your ministry in the changing context of Palo Alto today. Even as I look forward to exploring other facets of my own ministry during my second semester with you, I look forward to seeing how the mission of this church will continue to unfold. How comforting to know that the God who has brought us this far will strengthen and sustain us through the next chapter of our journey. “O Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever ” (Ps. 136:1).

‐‐Doug Davidson